The Mercedes R-Class is not the last word in anything. It’s probably a good example of a blue-chip company laying an egg at the worst possible time. Mercedes-Benz is a full-line automaker in most of Europe but in America, it’s better known for luxury cars. Of course, the top brass at M-B didn’t quite know what to expect when the R-Class came out. Made in Alabama and Mexico, it wasn’t a normal Mercedes. But, once AMG saw it, they couldn’t resist doing what they do best: shoehorn a ridiculous engine into it, put it on wide tires and lowered suspension, and sell it like sliced bread. Only this time, sliced bread sold like New Coke.
The R-Class isn’t bad on paper. It’s a fairly large seven passenger sports tourer, but looks a bit more like an airport minibus than a minivan. With three rows of seats and slightly frumpy styling, it wasn’t a big hit in the United States, despite Mercedes’s best efforts. Less than 50,000 were sold in its entire run in the United States, and Mercedes has officially stopped selling it here. However, in the beginning, AMG got a shot at the R-Class, and for a select few, very lucky customers, a true great was born.
The AMG team took the R-Class up to the next level. They started with the M156 6.2L V8, an engine that served duty in the E-Class, S-Class, and plenty of other AMGs. They kept the 4Matic AWD system, a smart idea considering that carrying a bunch of kids in a 503-hp minivan could create a bad accident sans traction, and tossed in the 7-speed automatic transmission, then stuck some badges on it and put it on sale. Thanks to an exorbitant price tag, terrible mileage, and even more terrible timing, the R63 got a tepid reception. In fact, less than 100 were sold in the United States. Figures vary, but a lot of sources put the number at just 40 cars in the United States. However, they do occasionally turn up for sale around the country, and thanks to that great effect of depreciation, a regular Joe (although one with a solid income stream) can now enjoy the most ridiculous people carrier on Earth.
Off the showroom floor the R63 was $87,400 with a $775 shipping charge. Optioned out, the big girl shattered the cash register (and the wallet) at over 95 grand, making it a truly expensive proposition. Gas mileage and its strange styling (11/15 is muscle car level mileage) have pushed prices down in the six years since its on-sale date. While a good used R is available for around 20 grand, expect to pay more for the AMG. Also, don’t expect to strike gold on the first try, as this is quite a rare beast. I found one in Indiana for about 32K, and another in California for around 45 in better shape with lower miles.
Buyer beware, though. It might be a very unique car, but it won’t at all be cheap to run. Gas mileage aside, the air suspension will be expensive when it breaks. It’s still a Benz, so maintenance will cost quite a bit. Also, the fact is that since it’s not a high-interest car at the moment, if one buys one and decides not to keep it, selling it off won’t be all that easy. The other major issue with the R-Class is that it is perhaps too anonymous–spotting one on the road takes a good eye and an open year for that evil V8 rumble.
However, for the man or woman who gets an R63, there’s still benefits. Few cars are true sleepers nowadays, and this behemoth, with its 7 seats and frumpy styling, is not what anyone sees in their mind when I say “fast and three rows”. Its rarity could potentially put it as a collector car down the line. In fact, with prices still in a bit of a freefall, now may be the best time to get one of these off-beat, ridiculously fast whales. In my opninion, its rarity will help its cause, not to mention its uniqueness in not only its time, but likely in the years ahead. Mercedes-Benz AMG is known for doing up a lot of fast people-movers (the ML63, the “Hammer”, and the E63 wagon all come to mind), but none of them have the potential to really raise eyebrows as the R-Class beast. Want one? Start looking, and look as hard as possible, because one will turn up.
-Albert S. Davis